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2 Charlotte teens held by ICE get temporary stays of deportation

A family photo of student Yefri Sorto-Hernandez, 19, who has been taken into custody for deportation.
A family photo of student Yefri Sorto-Hernandez, 19, who has been taken into custody for deportation. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

A federal Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia has issued temporary deportation stays for two Charlotte-Mecklenburg students who were arrested in January by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for living in the country illegally, Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., announced Wednesday.

The stay means Yefri Sorto-Hernandez and Pedro Arturo Salmeron do not face an immediate threat of deportation to El Salvador, where they claimed to be living under threat of death from gangs. ICE likens the stay to a “legal pause” during which immigration officials decide whether to reconsider evidence for asylum in the cases.

The two are part of a group of six immigrant teens from North Carolina known as the NC6, who have been the subject of a series of protests and rallies by groups like Action NC, aimed at getting immigration officials to grant them asylum. Advocates say the teens will be killed by gangs if returned to their home country.

ICE officials confirmed Wednesday the stays were ordered and said the two teens will remain in custody at a Georgia detention facility unless the court orders them released while their cases are reconsidered.

“These young men didn’t deserve to be targets for deportation and are prime examples of why our complex immigration system needs to be fixed. (They) came to this country as minors fleeing unspeakable violence in Central America,” said Adams in a statement.

Elsy Hernandez's son Yefri Sorto, 19, has been taken into custody for deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The teens were arrested in January as part of a nationwide push by the Obama administration to make good on pledges to beef up border security and remove recently arrived immigrants not living legally in the country.

Sorto-Hernandez and Salmeron lost their cases in immigration court and were ordered deported more than a year ago. However, their families contend they received bad legal advice in court and want to be given a second chance to present evidence.

Adams said she would continue to monitor the cases and search for supporters in Congress of legislation to ensure immigrant teens seeking asylum are given the resources needed to make their cases in the immigration system.

The two Charlotte teens were minors when they crossed the border from Mexico into Texas in 2014.

Sorto-Hernandez and Salmeron are part of a flood of Central American minors who showed up without parents at the U.S. border between 2009 and 2014. Most said they were escaping violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, countries that have some of the world’s highest murder rates. They were willing to make the dangerous journey based on word-of-mouth knowledge of a Bush-era law that requires unaccompanied children from Central America to be given immigration court consideration and possible asylum.

It’s estimated 68,000 Central American minors crossed into the country that year with no pretense of hiding. More than 1,000 such youths have settled in Charlotte while awaiting immigration court hearings, which gave Mecklenburg County the nation’s 13th highest population of kids linked to the crisis.

Federal law permits unaccompanied minors from Central America to have their cases heard in immigration court, so Sorto-Hernandez and Salmeron were allowed to stay with their families in Charlotte until their bid to stay was resolved.

Federal officials say they are keeping all the arrested teens in custody in part because some of them hid or eluded federal agents during the past 12 months, rather than filing legal appeals of their deportation orders. Some families also gave false addresses to federal officials.

Local activists acted out a dramatization of an immigration raid to educate the Charlotte community on the realities of families facing immigration raids on Monday at The Square.

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